Friday, September 01, 2006

1 Remorseful Doctor + 1 Resentful Wife + 1 Rebellious Son = 1 Bleak Novel

Like all good ghost stories, The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards, begans on a dark, stormy night. In this case, it is also a snowy night, a night when Norah Henry's ob/gyn is stranded by the weather, and her husband is forced to deliver their baby in his own clinic. While Norah sleeps under anesthesia, David discovers that his wife is pregnant with not one, but two babies. The first is a healthy boy, the next a girl obviously afflicted with Down's Syndrome. Shocked, David hands his daughter to a nurse, instructing her to give the child to a local home for the mentally retarded - a standard practice in 1964, but one that will haunt David for the rest of his life. He elects to tell Norah that their daughter died. What David doesn't realize is that the nurse, Caroline Gill, can't bear to leave the newborn baby at an institution. Instead, she takes the baby to Pittsburgh, where the two begin a new life.

Back in Kentucky, the Henrys are haunted by the ghost of their daughter. Despite her happiness with her baby boy, Norah can't get past the immense feeling of loss that seems to accompany her every waking moment. David's relunctance to talk abut the death creates a gulf between he and Norah, a fissure that widens with every passing day. As their son, Paul, grows up, he can feel the tension between them, and mistakenly construes it as his fault.

When a tragedy strikes, the past comes flying into the present, and the Henrys must face the mistake David made so many years ago.

This book is beautifully written, although in a very stark and haunting way. Even Caroline's story, which is supposed to provide a bright counterpoint to the Henrys sad story, is described in a sad, bleak way. The plot is very engrossing and fast-paced, but undeniably sad. Although the book is eventually about redemption, it is ultimately sad and depressing. I thought the book was interesting and very well-written - I just couldn't get over its incredibly bleak tone.

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